Do Breastfed Children Become Smarter and Wealthier Adults?

breastfeeding womanDespite ongoing public outreach campaigns and an increased willingness on the part of American mothers to try it, breastfeeding rates aren’t what they should be. Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months, but 70% of mothers don’t follow breastfeeding recommendations.

Previous research has linked breastfeeding to a number of short-term benefits, but proving the long-term value of breastfeeding has been more challenging. A new study published in Lancet Global Health offers insights into how breastfeeding affects children over a lifetime. The study, which followed infants for 30 years, found that the benefits of breastfeeding may last decades.

The Long-Lasting Benefits of Breastfeeding

The study was launched in Brazil in 1982, and tracked 5,914 newborns. Researchers logged whether and for how long babies were breastfed and when they began eating solid food. They also logged data about the babies’ families and lifestyles, including mothers’ educations, family incomes, babies’ birth weights, and other factors.

Thirty years later, researchers were able to locate and interview 3,493 of the study participants. They found that, even after controlling for other factors, children who had been breastfed for a year or longer had higher educational attainments, better IQ scores, and bigger incomes than those who were breastfed for a month or less.

Bernardo Lessa Horta, one of the study’s authors, emphasizes that breastfeeding isn’t the only factor that affects intelligence. The study was observational in nature, so it’s possible that researchers might have missed other relevant factors. Because the study establishes a clear correlation between breastfeeding, income, and IQ, though, its authors argue that public health authorities should continue to encourage breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Recommendations

Women who want to breastfeed sometimes struggle to get accurate information on breastfeeding. La Leche League offers comprehensive information, including tips on how to deal with common issues such as mastitis.

Though the CDC recommends breastfeeding for at least six months, it does not place a cap on how long mothers should breastfeed. The World Health Organization advises exclusive breastfeeding until six months, then continued supplemental breastfeeding until two years—or longer if both the mother and the child want to continue.

References:

  1. Bakalar, N. (2015, March 17). Breast-feeding may have benefits decades later. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/17/breast-feeding-may-have-benefits-decades-later/?_r=0
  2. Breastfeeding. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
  3. Eisner, R. (n.d.). U.S. moms don’t breast-feed long enough. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117395
  4. Lafrance, A. (2015, March 20). About that breastfeeding study. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/about-that-breastfeeding-study/388309/

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  • Carla B.

    Carla B.

    March 25th, 2015 at 3:06 PM

    I wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t so I hate being made to feel like I did my kids a disservice because I wasn’t able to do it. They are smart and they are happy so there are other ways to supplement all of that, in ways that don’t have to come from the breast. I think that there is a right choice for everyone, and no one way should be seen and promoted as the end all and be all. If you love your children, care for them nurture them, provide for them… then what else is there left that you have not done regardless of whether they ate from a bottle or a breast as an infant?

  • kathleen

    kathleen

    March 25th, 2015 at 3:55 PM

    I don’t think that there is any criticism there, just the fact that breastfed kids tend to be healthier overall.

  • Britt

    Britt

    March 26th, 2015 at 11:51 AM

    It’s the way that mothers have been feeding their children for 1000s of years. When it did become so taboo to even do it in public?

  • Ginny

    Ginny

    March 26th, 2015 at 3:59 PM

    Every child can succeed who is brought up in a stable and loving home but don’t you want yours to have every advantage possible. If that means breastfeeding them so be it. That’s what you need to do to ensure that your child is happy and healthy.

  • Augustine

    Augustine

    March 28th, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    There is no doubt in my mind at all that you can always tell who was a breast fed baby from the kids who were not. There is just this mental awareness and intellect hat as there, in addition to closeness to parents that can’t be denied. You can believe what you wish, but breastfeeding a child is the very best way that we have available to us to give our children the edge that they need form a very early age to be the most successful in life. It has been stated time and again and I really don’t think that there are any medical professionals around who can deny that this is simply the best thing that you can do for your baby.

  • connie r

    connie r

    March 30th, 2015 at 12:25 PM

    Live and let live, ya know? What works for you works for you and no one else has to worry about it.

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